The Story Behind The Sample: ‘Mask Off’ by Future
(Credit: Frank Schwitchtenberg)


The Story Behind The Sample: 'Mask Off' by Future

Some songs are more renowned for their instrumental than their lyrics, and ‘Mask Off’ by the Atlanta rapper Future is undoubtedly one of those tracks. Released in 2017 as the second single for his fifth studio album Future, the beat of ‘Mask Off’ is iconic and played a massive part in its commercial success. In contemporary hip-hop, a song’s instrumental can be just as crucial as its lyrics. In some circumstances, the backing track makes a song a hit, and that is arguably the case for this 2017 single from Future.

Considered by many to be the poster boy of mumble rap, Future certainly has a bad rap among those who cherish the art of lyricism within hip-hop. However, many new-generation rappers cite Future as a significant influence even though he is still an active recording artist.

Beyond his perceived lack of lyricism, the Atlanta rapper (real name Nayvadius Cash) has also been cast aside by many elders as the man who popularised the use of ‘Class A’ narcotics. Moreover, several rappers have asserted that his music alone promotes and glorifies the abuse of prescription drugs, such as Prozac and Codeine. As such, he is a highly contentious figure.

However, irrespective of his somewhat questionable lyrics, Cash is undeniably an impactful artist who has achieved a lot in his career thus far but ‘Mask Off’ is one of his most significant achievements. Produced by the renowned Atlanta beatmaker Metro Boomin the single is known for its iconic flute melody. However, only a few people know where the catchy riff comes from. For this release, the beatmaker (real name Leland Wayne) chose to sample the 1976 track ‘Prison Song’ by Carlton Williams, which appears on the soundtrack for the musical SELMA. 

Entitled The ‘Selma’ Album: A Musical Tribute To Dr Martin Luther King Jr., the soundtrack was written solely by Tommy Butler by primarily performed by Carlton Williams. In Future’s 2019 documentary, The WIZRD, the act revealed that ‘Mask Off’ was released before its sample had been cleared. The Atlanta rapper even admitted that radio programmers weren’t aware the song even contained a sample. Elaborating on the situation, Cash explained, “Out of all the songs, ‘Mask Off’ wasn’t even legit. The shit was on the radio, they’re thinking it’s not a sample, but it got so big they were like, ‘It’s a sample.’ They didn’t want to believe it wasn’t a sample, and they called Esco like, ‘He didn’t tell you it was a sample?’ He was like, ‘Yes, I knew it was a sample.’ But shit, I just put it on there anyway.”

The track is sparse and Wayne was very minimalistic in his approach to its production. The single peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot100 and currently sits at eight times platinum. You can hear the original sample and then the Future track in the videos below.